GLACIER NATIONAL PARK – Former First Lady Laura Bush wrapped up a week of hiking on the east side of Glacier National Park by headlining a fundraiser on the shore of Lake McDonald last week.
Bush, whose husband George W. Bush served as president from 2001-2009, visits a different national park every year, and her foray to Montana last week marked her second visit to Glacier, the first of which took place in 2004. She capped her trip off by making remarks at a $250-per-plate dinner for the Glacier National Park Fund, held at a private residence on Lake McDonald, which organizers expected to raise about $25,000.
“There are several reasons that it’s so important to us, in the United States, to protect our most treasured and most fabulous natural landscapes and fortunately our national park system has allowed us to do that,” Bush said during a meeting with local media while guests for the fundraiser arrived on red Jammer buses. “One of the reasons that I wanted to do the fundraiser with the Glacier Fund is private philanthropy is very important to our parks, especially in times like this when there are budget cuts and when our national parks are not getting the kind of appropriations they really need to even stay up with just seasonal repairs.”
Money raised by Bush’s appearance will go toward the maintenance and repair of historic structures in the park, as well as damaged trails. A former elementary school teacher and librarian, Bush also emphasized how the Glacier Fund supports educational opportunities for students visiting the park, as well as those learning about its ecosystem through the National Park Service website.
“That’s the way children who might never ever be able to come to Glacier can learn about it, can learn about the wildlife that’s here, about how important it is, what is the state of the glaciers that are here in Glacier National Park,” she said. “So the Glacier fund also supports the development of curriculum and objectives for teachers both here in Montana and then all over the United States as well.”
At a time when the national conversation is dominated by the potential for the U.S. government to default on its debt, Bush noted education and park funding are taking hits at both the national and state level, making the need for philanthropic and community efforts to sustain those areas through the fragile economy even more vital.
“It’s very important for United States congressmen as well as state legislators and state governors to make sure that the money they spend, that they spend on what’s the most crucial in education as well as obviously in protecting our native habitats,” Bush said. “And I think that’s also a time that all of us as American citizens, if we have the ability, the financial ability, should step in and try to tide over both our schools as well as our state and national parks.”
As for her trip, Bush and a group of women from West Texas with whom she hikes regularly stayed at a friend’s cabin on the Blackfeet Reservation.
“We hiked a lot on the east side to parts that we hadn’t been to before,” she said. “We went to Two Medicine Lake; we did the boat trip across there and then hiked on the other side of it. We hiked up to Baring Falls to Virginia Falls, St. Mary’s falls.”
During their hikes, Bush and the group witnessed a pair of grizzlies from a distance, as well as a marmot, beaver and osprey. And she was particularly pleased to, “get to see the huge beargrass bloom that is so magnificent.”
“We’re all self-taught naturalists,” Bush said. “We love both seeing the birds and being able to identify a lot of the wildflowers that you can only see here in this part of the United States.”